Grave at 'Alfred the Great' Winchester church exhumed

image captionThe bones have been removed from St Bartholomew's Church

An unmarked grave has been exhumed at a church where the remains of King Alfred the Great are thought to be buried.

Human remains from the grave at St Bartholomew's Church in Winchester have been removed to secure storage.

A church spokesman said no scientific investigation of the remains had been permitted yet.

It is thought the bones of the Saxon king could have been moved to the church from the ruins of the nearby Hyde Abbey in the 19th Century.

'Widespread interest'

A Church of England spokesman said the decision to exhume on Monday and Tuesday was taken to "counter the risk of theft from or vandalism to the grave".

"Understandably, there is widespread interest in this situation. For now we can't say any more about the remains, their nature or whereabouts but promise to keep people updated when there is something to tell.

image captionAlfred the Great died in 899

"Although no application has yet been made to carry out any scientific investigation, we do acknowledge that there is local interest in learning more about the remains found in this grave," he said.

The Bishop of Basingstoke, the Right Reverend Peter Hancock, led prayers at the grave site before the work started.

The Reverend Canon Cliff Bannister, Rector of St Bartholomew's Church said: "Although we know there is historical interest in this site, our chief concern this week has been to ensure that the exhumation of human remains from a consecrated Christian burial site has been fulfilled in a reverent and dignified manner."

Tomb robbed

The work comes after the remains of Richard III were found under a car park in Leicester. The skeleton was found last August and confirmed as that of the 15th Century king in February.

Alfred's remains are known to have been moved several times since he was buried in the Winchester's old minster in 899 AD.

They were moved in 904 to a new church to be alongside his wife and children, before being moved again to Hyde Abbey in 1110.

The abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and studies indicate the tomb was robbed.

It is believed some bones were put on display in the 19th Century before being buried at St Bartholomew Church.

Alfred was King of Wessex but was referred to as King of the English towards the end of his reign after he united areas of the country and defeated the Danes in several battles.

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